Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa says Fernando Llorente’s confirmation this week that he wants to leave the club has not changed anything and the centre-forward remains a useful member of his squad.
On Tuesday, Llorente said he had made up his mind not to extend his contract, which ends on June 30, and the striker - linked to Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal - did not rule out a move during January’s transfer window.
However, his boss says Athletic will not accept a move next month and the situation remains as it was.
“The situation is that the club have dismissed the idea of Llorente leaving in January,” Bielsa said. “The position is fixed. His presence helps us. Nothing different than what was expected happened. An assessment would be called for if the situation was not the same as it has been up till now, but there has not been any change. He has spoken, as has everyone; nothing new has been added.”
Some reports have taken Llorente’s statement - and wish to leave Bilbao - as indirect criticism of his coach, but Bielsa said he did not worry about anything other than getting his team ready for games.
“I only inform myself about things which I need to prepare the team,” he said. “I do not go through all the information, just the minimum. I cannot judge everything that has been published about Llorente. There is nobody better than him to concern himself with conclusions.”
Bielsa was speaking ahead of Athletic’s home Europa League game against Sparta Prague, which is likely to be their last European game at their famous Estadio San Mames, which has seen many memorable European nights over the decades against opponents including Manchester United, Honved, Porto and Juventus.
With Athletic already eliminated from the competition after picking up just four points from their first five games, Thursday night’s game is likely to see Llorente captaining an under-strength team featuring a mix of reserves and youngsters Jonas Ramalho, Erik Moran and Aymeric Laporte. The former Argentina and Chile coach admitted to an unfortunate feeling of anti-climax around the game.
"That the last European match here is like this is not what we wanted,” Bielsa said. “We would have preferred to be playing for something more important. It is a big regret, especially for me.”
Bielsa said the main difference between this season’s ‘Euro-Athletic’ and last year’s - when United, PSG and Schalke were all overcome on the way to the Europa League final - was efficiency in front of goal.
“In all the games, including the one we lost 1-3 (in Prague in early October), we were superior to our opponents,” he said. “We lost because although our rival had fewer chances to score, they converted more than we did. We have been dominating games. Why did this happen? It was different in each game.”